66 pages 2 hours read

Robert Greene


Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


Mastery (2012), a non-fiction work by American author Robert Greene, explores how individuals can achieve excellence in their fields. It delves into The Mentor/Apprentice Relationship while emphasizing the power of deep learning and practice. The book also highlights The Importance of Creative Thinking and encourages readers to push beyond traditional boundaries and conventions. Additionally, it frames Challenges and Setbacks as Learning Opportunities, essential components of personal and professional growth.

This guide refers to the 2012 Penguin Random House LLC Edition.


Mastery examines the path to achieving exceptional expertise in any field through mentorship, innovation, and resilience. This guide is divided into seven parts, with each part constituting one chapter. In the introductory chapter, the author sets the stage for a comprehensive exploration of the nature and attainment of mastery. Greene outlines the concept of higher intelligence as a form of mastery that involves three phases: acquisition, integration, and creative expression. He emphasizes the importance of intuitive intelligence and the connection to reality as essential components of recognizing the latent power inherent in everyone. Greene delves into the evolutionary background of human mastery, tracing it from our primitive ancestors through the development of the human brain, highlighting the significance of social intelligence, mirror neurons, and the capacity for focused thought and time management. The Introduction sets the tone for a deeper investigation into the keys to mastery, emphasizing the need to pursue one’s unique path and follow one’s instincts.

In Chapter 1, Greene emphasizes the importance of discovering what he calls the Life’s Task, an inner calling that guides us toward our unique purpose. Through historical and contemporary examples, he outlines strategies to pursue this calling: revisiting one’s earliest interests, finding the right niche, avoiding paths that don’t align with inner inclinations, adapting to change, and overcoming significant life challenges. Greene argues that understanding and aligning with this internal force is the first critical step towards achieving mastery, and offers practical advice to navigate this personal journey.

In Chapter 2, Greene delves into the concept of the Ideal Apprenticeship, a pivotal phase following formal education where one starts a practical journey towards mastery. He outlines a process involving deep observation, skill acquisition, and experimentation within one’s chosen field. Through historical and modern examples, Greene presents strategies for navigating this apprenticeship, advising readers to value learning over monetary gain, embrace challenges, and engage in continuous self-improvement. This chapter serves as a guide for transforming oneself into an independent thinker and skilled master.

In Chapter 3, Greene discusses the critical role of mentors in accelerating the learning process and enhancing creativity. He stresses the importance of selecting a mentor aligned with one’s Life’s Task and the necessity of humility and openness to absorb their wisdom fully. Through examples like Michael Faraday, Greene illustrates the mentor-protégé dynamic and emphasizes that the ultimate goal is not just to learn but to surpass the mentor’s mastery. The chapter offers strategies for deepening this relationship and recognizes the moment to independently advance beyond the mentor’s teachings.

Furthermore, in Chapter 4, Greene explores the importance of social intelligence in achieving mastery. He argues that understanding social environments is crucial, as interpersonal conflicts can significantly hinder progress. Through the lens of historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Greene discusses the ability to read people accurately and adjust one’s behavior accordingly. He identifies key social dynamics and strategies for developing social intelligence, such as crafting an appropriate persona and seeing oneself as others do, and emphasizes that mastery in any field is incomplete without this skill.

In Chapter 5, Greene discusses transitioning to the Creative-Active Phase, where accumulated skills and knowledge become fuel for innovation. He emphasizes the importance of expanding knowledge to related fields and making new connections between ideas. This leads to challenging and reshaping internalized rules to create original work. Through examples like Mozart and Edison, Greene outlines strategies for nurturing creativity, including embracing serendipity and altering perspectives. He highlights the necessity of overcoming emotional pitfalls like complacency and impatience, and offers guidance on achieving creative breakthroughs and expressing one’s authentic voice.

Finally, in the last chapter, Greene explores the fusion of intuitive and rational thinking as the pinnacle of mastery. He posits that by deeply immersing oneself in a field and following their natural inclinations, individuals can access a higher form of intelligence. This intelligence enables masters to anticipate trends, make accurate decisions quickly, and see the world more comprehensively. Through examples and strategies, Greene illustrates how cultivating this dynamic balance between intuition and rationality leads to in-depth insights and innovative problem-solving, which marks the ultimate phase of mastery.